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November 5, 2004

Election Idiocy

Just in case anyone hasn't yet figured out this year's election was a total joke, Wired is now running a story about almost 5000 lost votes in North Carolina. The vendor provided the government with incorrect specifications, telling them the computer could store more than 10,000 votes when in fact it could only store about 3,000.

The result is this:

Officials said 3,005 early votes were stored, but 4,530 were lost.

Jack Gerbel, president and owner of Dublin, California-based UniLect, said Thursday that the county's elections board was given incorrect information. There is no way to retrieve the missing data, he said.

"That is the situation and it's definitely terrible," he said.

In a letter to county officials, he blamed the mistake on confusion over which model of the voting machines was in use in Carteret County. But he also noted that the machines flash a warning message when there is no more room for storing ballots.

"Evidently, this message was either ignored or overlooked," he wrote.

Wait, come again?

"Evidently, this message was either ignored or overlooked," he wrote.

Hey, king of the brains, if your voting terminals can't record any more votes, why the hell don't they stop working? Flashing a stupid warning results in exactly this kind of thing. The proper solution would be to stop all voting until the situation is remedied. The warnings are being flashed to the voters, not the election officials. You really think Joe Sixpack is going to understand the "Memory Card Full" flashing on the screen, while the voting machine still lets him vote?

And this loss is yet another argument for the necessity of a paper trail. If the machines were printing out a verified paper ballot to go along with every electronic vote, those 4,530 lost votes would be easily found, tallied, and hold a bearing on the election figures. But since all the electronic voting machines in this country are held to exactly zero accountability, 4,530 people's votes simply disappeared into the ether and will never be heard from again.

Not only would a paper ballot "receipt" work well in this situation, but you could easily verify the machines' data wasn't tampered with by comparing the machine-reported results against the paper results every vote spit out.

But wait, it gets better! This stupidity isn't limited to UniLect, this year's vendor of North Carolina's machines. In the same state in 2002, it happened with another of the Big Evil Three vendors, ES&S:

Like UniLect, ES&S claimed that the machines flashed a warning to voters telling them the memory was full but it did not prevent voters from continuing to cast ballots, something that critics say any voting machine should do.

As a generous gift from me to the American people, here is some sample code the voting terminal companies can use to make their systems function properly:

if (memoryCardIsFull)

Damn, that was hard. And it's not like they're not already checking for a card full condition, since they're "flashing a warning" about it.


We are putting the outcome of the American government into the hands of absolutely braindead, irresponsible morons -- and I don't mean voters. Did everyone at these companies flunk out of ITT Tech, or what?

Posted by Colin at November 5, 2004 10:24 AM

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